It was unexpected, to say the least, but Monday’s announcement that Natalie Bennett is the new leader of the Green Party is to be welcomed – a strong public speaker, writer and campaigner, she’ll be sure to keep the party on its principled track while at the same time winning votes across the spectrum.
But while it’s important to move forward now, we must also learn from some of the big issues in the leadership election, the most significant being turnout – why is it that only 25% of members voted for such an important position? Not much more than 3000 of our 13000 or so members bothered to pick up a pen and shape the party’s future. Was online-based campaigning valued above visiting local parties?
All the candidates, as far as I’m aware, had websites. How many went to more than a dozen or so branches outside of the few hustings events? The limited candidate ‘touring’ is the classic problem of lack of funding, an issue in all parties. But perhaps we should consider funding candidates in order for them to visit as many local parties as possible and maximise real member engagement.
Also, on a more minor point – where were the emails reminding members to vote? Over the course of the election weekly messages would have got hundreds more to send off their ballots. But such reminders appeared as only side notes in internal emails over the election period.
Of course, for many less online-active members, the literature they received through the post was their main source of information in deciding how to vote. Which makes the unofficial mail-out, sent during the leadership race, quote troubling. I’m referring to a seemingly party-endorsed pack with four pieces of promotional literature in it, sent to thousands of members – of which Natalie Bennett and Pippa Bartolotti’s pitches were the only leader candidate ads to feature. Two deputy candidates, Mallender and Allen also had their ‘ad’ pieces in there, and both Mallender and Bartolotti’s lacked an imprint (the ‘promoted by…’ footer), in contravention to party rules. Indeed the whole mail-out had the false air of being official.
All the candidates were censured by the Returning Officer (see here) – but few members knew of this as the censure was not actually posted to members but put online, to be printed in the post-election Green World. Shoddy stuff. With Bennett beating Cranie by just over 500 votes, the dodgy mail-out could, theoretically, have proven decisive.
There are deeper constitutional problems though. The gender-balance rules meant that, since Natalie won the leadership vote, both female deputy candidates, Alex Philips and Caroline Allen, were instantly eliminated – regardless of how many votes they won. If we’re serious about boosting female representation, and serious about democracy, these rules have to be modified to a gender-balance/+1 system where women can hold both leader and deputy positions. There seems to be a good base of support in the party for such a change, and no doubt the party’s next conference will see the motion put forward.
All of these problems are rectifiable – but they must be noted and learnt from nonetheless. Some – like issues of money and constitutionality, will take longer to solve. For the moment we can celebrate both the huge media coverage the election has received and the fact that our new leader has the ambition and skills needed to drive the party forward. Bring on Bristol conference.